Potential UN response to Syria Earthquake
Feb 27, 2023 1073

Potential UN response to Syria Earthquake

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The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, has decided to dispatch  the Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, to the region that has been affected by the earthquake to closely assess the situation.   

This decision came 3 days after     the devastating earthquake that hit northwestern Syria and led to the declaration of the Syrian opposition areas as disaster zones. Local organizations and rescue teams continued to work during these difficult days without any intervention by UN or international organizations. The scheduled UN aid was rather stopped within the first days of that disaster.   

After the Secretary-General's decision to dispatch the United Nations Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs, Switzerland and Brazil, as co-penholders on the Syrian humanitarian file, held a joint press conference on Friday, February 10, 2023, in which they requested the convening of a session of the Security Council "as soon as possible" to hear the United Nations undersecretary after his return, reviewing his report and assessment of the humanitarian situation; in order to take appropriate measures to help the Syrian people accordingly.   

In response to a question about whether the Security Council would seek a resolution to open more crossings across the border, the permanent representative of Switzerland to the UN, Ambassador Pascale Baeriswyl, said: "We urged all parties to facilitate access to relief efforts and allow assistance to reach all those in need."    

It is expected that the Security Council, in its expected session during the coming week, will take measures related to establishing mechanisms for allowing cross-border deliveries of UN humanitarian aid to affected people, especially since the current humanitarian crisis is expected to have effects and repercussions for several months. These measures, which will be discussed by the Security Council members, may turn into several scenarios, most notably:   

1. To open the Bab al-Salama crossing in addition to the Bab al-Hawa    

In theory, this measure may be the most likely one that the Security Council can agree upon, especially after the Bab al-Salama crossing has already been opened for delivering some international relief shipments sent to Gaziantep Airport. Moreover, it might be because Bab al-Salama is an international crossing equipped with all facilities and technical needs, which is relatively close to the affected areas in northwest Syria.   

As the disaster is worsening and having serious repercussions, it is expected that Russia will agree to this measure, with conditions such as obligating the crossing to implement the mechanism for monitoring humanitarian aid contained in Resolution 2165 (2014) or the temporary opening of the crossing until the end of the date of the decision in July 2023.   

Just a reminder that the opening of Bab al-Salamah and Bab al-Hawa on the Syrian-Turkish border area was provided for in Resolution 2504 (2020) after the closure of the Ramtha crossings on the Jordanian border, and al-Yarubiyah on the Iraqi border, in accordance with Resolution 2165 (2014).   

2. To open more than one crossing in addition to the Bab al-Hawa crossing   

The opposition areas that were hit by the devastating earthquake were already suffering from continuous humanitarian crises and they consequently turned into disaster-stricken ones, that need rescue efforts and providing relief to civilians, which in turn requires establishing land humanitarian bridges through which UN and international aid could be delivered through several main crossings, not only via the Bab Al-Hawa and Bab Al-Salamah crossings. Keeping the aforementioned complications in mind, the Security Council may resort to extend the authorization to include the Al-Rai and the Jarabulus crossings.   

It is expected that Russia will resist more if the Council goes to discuss this possibility, as Moscow could set the opening of the Ramtha crossing on the Syrian-Jordanian border as a condition for delivering aid to the Syrian regime’s areas, given that the presence of earthquake-affected places over there, which necessitates an increase in the flow of aid to such areas. Moreover, Russia may demand to expand the cross-border aid deliveries.   

However, Russia may be more inclined to this measure than before, while placing the same conditions that it can stipulate in any case.   

3. Failure to take exceptional measures   

The mechanism for delivering UN aid may remain the same as stipulated in UN Resolution 2672 (2023), if no understandings are reached, that would satisfy Russia and force it to give in to such an authorization; especially since Russia will not only struggle to allow cross-border aid deliveries to the regime-held areas that are affected by the recent earthquake, but also to demand that such deliveries to be increased. Furthermore, Russia will defend the Red Crescent’s announcements on the regime’s areas; as the International organization expressed its willingness to deliver cross-border aid.   

4. To extend the authorization for international aid deliveries through crossings without conditions   

Security Council Resolution 2139 (2014) to deliver humanitarian aid into Syria was unprecedented in the history of the United Nations. The former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, said in the voting session on it: “It was not necessary to take this decision, as humanitarian assistance is not subject to negotiation. It is something that international law allows."   

  Many international legal experts confirmed the illegality of Resolution 2139, called for its abolition, and stressed that there was no legal impediment to the Security Council's cross-border humanitarian operations. They also stressed that the denial of humanitarian assistance could amount to an international crime.   

  The main motive behind the adoption of Resolution 2139 was the entry of humanitarian aid by the United Nations force into the besieged areas after the regime arbitrarily prevented passing any aid. However, Russia derailed the decision and later on it become a subject of negotiation in the Security Council sessions.   

It is unlikely that the Security Council to have such a measure on its agenda; especially with the presence of  Russia’s veto, as the rest of the rapporteurs do not seem to escalate the political situation with Moscow. However, a procedure as such must be raised by both the Syrian opposition and local and international humanitarian organizations, even if the dispute over it requires transferring it to the United Nations General Assembly, or requesting an urgent UN arbitration committee to consider its legality.